Sunday, July 1, 2007

My Year of Magical Thinking

I am reading The Tipping Point. I know that Malcolm Gladwell is now a revered man and that nearly everyone in America has read this book, as well as its sequel, Blink. I had never gotten around to it until now.

The Tipping Point sounds to me like a point of no return, the point at which you cannot dial back life's clock to five minutes ago. The inertia is too strong to be humanly stopped. Nature will take its course, with or without our consent. As one of my graduate school professors liked to say, "It's happening folks. It's happening."

The tipping point can be positive or negative. Hush Puppies are fashionable again. The crime rate sky rockets over night. Both have a tipping point.

I am also reading a book entitled Stumbling on Happiness. It's led me to consider whether or not there is a happiness tipping point that we stumble upon. A moment in which we find that our lives are overflowing with joy. In yogic terms, this would be the point when we are in sync with the energies of the universe. We feel as if everything we touch turns to gold. We are coookin' with gas. (I'm only on page 50 so Gladwell may address this later on in the book. If he does, please don't tell me. I like surprises.)

This morning I spent a few hours walking around what will soon be my new neighborhood. And I am deliriously happy with it. If two years ago someone had told me that I'd be living on the upper west side between Riverside and Central Parks and working for the most fun company in the world doing exactly the work I dreamed of doing, I'd have asked how much that life costs because I'd need to buy it. Lives like that don't just happen, right? Thankfully, I was wrong. They DO just happen. Somehow all the ducks got in a row, into one gorgeous, perfect line just when I needed them to.

In my state of happy delirium, I took myself downtown to the theatre district. I had a ticket to see Vanessa Redgrave in The Year of Magical Thinking, a play based on a book with the same title by Joan Didion. I read the book in March of 2006 while on spring break, just as I turned 30.

And that was the beginning of what would be a very rough year for me. I would learn that some people whom I considered close friends were anything but. I thought the man I was dating was the love of my life and instead he broke my heart in a million pieces. Later, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and my sister with cervical pre-cancer. And I would interview for what I thought was my dream and learn through the interview process that it is the last place I'd ever want to be employed. All of this could generate a good deal of self-pity, something I refuse to have regardless of circumstances. So I did the only thing I knew how to do - I kept going, and showing up, and smiling.

In her book, Ms. Didion considers how fleeting happiness can be. One minute we are overjoyed with life, and then the next minute, everything has fallen apart. We search for clues, for answers. How and why did this happen? How do I get back the life I had seconds before. She is talking about a tipping point of sorts, too.

I don't know if there are ever signs of drastic change that we can see coming in our own lives. It's possible we are too close to the situation to tell. It is possible that denial is too powerful to allow us to even entertain the thought of change when we are so happy with the way life is, in this moment. Maybe we can't control or contain happiness. Maybe it is bigger and stronger than us. It is possible that while it may be within our reach, it will never allow us to actually catch it and hold it. The most we can hope for is to be in its company for a little while.

There is one certain thing I have found about happiness - it always returns. Even if only for glimpses of time, with long gaps in between, for all of us, happiness will always find us so long as we stay open to it, as long as we actively seek it. And maybe that's the trick. Maybe what we need is to really want happiness to stick around, to want to make it part of our daily lives. Alternatively, maybe happiness is something we need to create and nurture, just like a job or a family or a friendship. It needs attention and care.

It is ironic that on this day when I was so happy to just be living my life that I would reminded by Ms. Redgrave about the fleeting nature of this emotion. In a sense her performance and Ms. Didion's writing served as bookends to my own year of magical thinking, when so many chips were down that I barley knew what to do except play the hand I had, hoping that the next deal would give me something a bit better. I do know that after this year I am more grateful for happiness than I ever have been before. And maybe that's what happiness requires - our gratitude. Just like a person, when happiness is appreciated, it's likely to stick around for a while.

1 comment:

Janet said...

Christa, you are an angel. If nothing else, there are 2 things I've learned as I've gotten older. The first is that people somehow always manage to surprise you. The second is that the universe acts as a mirror - if you put positive energy out into the universe. Bad things happen, even to good people but it is their attitude that brings them happiness and peace, even in the worst of times. You keep sending those good vibes out there, and it will all come back to you!